1991 Shoot-Wrestling Year in Review Continued...
MB: We have witnessed three different promotions all with the same roots, and presumably the same endgames, but with different approaches that have had their pros and cons. The PWFG has been closest to the heart of real shooting, with several performers that have both the talent and desire to push this format closer to their vision of “real” fighting, with the drawback being that they have at times sacrificed entertainment value for realism.
The UWFI on the other hand has been the most consistently entertaining of the three promotions by a wide margin, but also the most frustrating, as their insistence on making Nobuhiko Takada appear to be indestructible as well as some of their other booking decisions have shown that they may be the promotion with the most to lose in the next year, as they run the risk of being a flash-in-the-pan with their inability to provide Takada with some real threats to his throne.
RINGS has by far had the rockiest start, as Maeda simply had to run this promotion mainly on the sheer strength of his star-power alone, as he is severely lacking any homegrown talent, and his outsourcing almost all of his talent to martial artists with little to no experience in pro wrestling has led to some very uneven results. The upside to this, is that Maeda seems to have the strongest concept in place, and now that Volk Han has arrived, the only direction to go now is up. Another credit to Maeda, is that he is willing to allow himself to lose if it means good business, and honestly he comes across to me as if he wouldn’t mind not wrestling at all, but is forcing himself to do it as it’s the only way to sell tickets and be able to have a television deal in place at this stage in time.
A few of the historical highlights that were witnessed in 1991 include:
The first full-blown MMA fight in the shoot- era (not counting Shooto) with Takaku Fuke vs Lawi Napataya. (At the 7-26-91 PWFG event)
A shoot fight between Gerard Gordeau and Mitsuya Nagai which took place almost two years before Gordeau was at the inaugural UFC event.
A shoot between Ken Shamrock and Kazuo Takahashi, that was short, fast, and brutal. Very entertaining, but perhaps a cautionary tale as Shamrock almost kicked Kazuo’s head off his body and was probably a warning against these kinds of matches from being trusted to happen in the near future.
Shoots between pro wrestlers and legitimate high-skilled boxers. Even though the concept far exceeded the execution, we got to see Billy Scott face a very deadly James Warring in an MMA fight, and while the rules led to a ridiculous outcome, this was a historical snap-shot of protoplasmic MMA.
The birth of Kiyoshi Tamura. He had a brief run the NEWBORN UWF but was quickly sidelined by an injury given to him by Akira Maeda. The UWFI has wisely chosen to showcase his talent, but perhaps unwisely not given him as strong as a push as they should have, due to their choosing to groom Garly Albright as the unstoppable suplex machine that will eventually come to blows with Takada. This is unfortunate as we can see that he is a once in a lifetime performer that not only has endless potential in this of pro wrestling, but surely has the goods to be effective in real shoots as well. (Though we have not seen him in a real shoot as of yet.)
The debut of Volk Han. Another talent that only comes around once in a generation, this Sambo master would wind up showcasing what was a relatively unknown martial art to the world at large, and gave us a glimpse of new possibilities both in the shoot and shoot->
A format that really allowed talents like Minoru Suzuki, Masakatsu Funaki, and Ken Shamrock to flourish and cultivate their skills/identities. Without the PWFG Ken Shamrock would have probably continued to flounder around in the middle spectrum of American Pro Wrestling, and while there was a chance he could have caught a break in an American promotion with his physique, it probably wouldn’t have come anywhere close to the opportunities afforded to him by being an early star of American MMA. Fuanki and Suzuki on the other hand, probably would have both carved out respectable careers in NJPW or other Japanese pro wrestling companies, but would not have anywhere near the respect or notoriety of having founded the Pancrase organization, and thereby securing their legacies as MMA pioneers.
It remains to be seen what awaits us on the horizon as we venture into 1992, but it is clearly an exciting time as the and hearts of each of these promotions have coalesced enough that they each have their separate, yet equally important, identities that are going to blaze the path forward to becoming part of the roots of full blown MMA.